Warriors start to look like themselves, Steph explodes in 3rd to beat Blazers
After a stunning season-opening blowout defeat that left them searching for answers and wondering what hit them, the Golden State Warriors bounced back with a pair of victories that still felt a little too close for comfort.
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Yes, the Warriors beat the New Orleans Pelicans, but they gave up 114 points and had absolutely no answers for Anthony Davis inside. Yes, Golden State knocked off the Phoenix Suns, but they let a Suns squad expected to be one of the league’s worst teams this season hang around into the final minute. Yes, they’d gotten big scoring performances from Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but when were the Warriors going to start looking like … y’know … the Warriors?
The answer: on Tuesday night, at the Moda Center, after halftime. Unfortunately for the Portland Trail Blazers, that’s when the Human Torch version of Curry showed up, when the choke-you-out version of the Golden State defense showed up, and when, for the first time this season, the team we all expected to see started to come into view, taking a good Trail Blazers team to the woodshed in a 127-104 beatdown.
It started, as everything that matters has started for Golden State these past few years, with Curry.
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He’d struggled through Tuesday’s first two quarters, missing seven of his nine shots and all four of his 3-point tries while committing four turnovers. He was getting roundly roasted by his opposite number, early-season MVP candidate Damian Lillard, who hit the ground running against Curry defense that was alternately too passive and too aggressive, pouring in 22 points on 11 shots in 18 minutes before intermission. Despite struggles for Steph and Klay, who went 4-for-12 from the field in the first half and also missed all four of his 3-pointers, the Warriors still took a six-point lead into the locker room thanks to strong starts by Durant, Draymond Green and hot-shooting guard Ian Clark, who led the way with 16 points on perfect 6-for-6 shooting in 10 first-half minutes.
The two teams traded buckets in the opening minutes of the second half. Then, at the 9:30 mark, Steph just said “screw it,” pulled up from 30 feet out in transition with just under 20 seconds left on the shot clock … and saw the ball go through the hoop. From there, Portland was in big, big trouble.
Curry bombed away from the left wing and the right wing, took a high-low give-and-go for a layup, and canned a right-corner triple after pulling the ball down to avoid a Portland closeout. He converted two tough layups through contact, including a high-arcing baseline reverse released as he headed to ground after being whacked by Blazers big man Ed Davis. He got hot in a second, became an inferno in two minutes, and buried the Blazers before the end of the quarter, outscoring Portland by himself in the frame, 23-20.
From the time that 30-foot transition pull splashed through the net, the two-time-reigning MVP didn’t look like someone trying to figure out where he fits in a revamped and rebooted pecking order. He looked like the by-God two-time-reigning MVP, making eight of his 12 third-quarter shots, including five of six long-ball attempts, to dominate a 41-point stanza that turned a previously close contest into a laugher.
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“Once [Curry] hit a couple off our mistakes, he started hitting tough ones,” said Lillard, who finished with 31 points on 8-for-19 shooting in 31 1/2 minutes, after the game, according to Ananth Pandian of CBSSports.com. “Then he started setting screens and we were so worried about staying attached to him, they started slipping to the rim and it just got away from us.”
Curry would finish with 28 points on 10-for-21 shooting to go with four rebounds, three assists and one steal in 29 1/2 minutes. Clark added a career-high 22 points on 8-for-8 shooting off the bench to pace a Warrior reserve corps that held up its end of the bargain on Tuesday, contributing 54 points on 30 shots.
Durant chipped in 20 points on 9-for-15 shooting with five rebounds, four steals, two assists and a block. His length and activity helped Green (six points, nine assists, eight rebounds, three steals, two blocks) protect the rim, holding Portland to 14-for-33 shooting in the paint for the game and a 7-for-23 mark total in the decisive third quarter.
The Warriors got stops, finished possessions with defensive rebounds — they pulled down 86.4 percent of the Blazers’ misses on Tuesday, compared with 70.1 percent of their opponents’ misfires through their first three games — and pushed the pace, leading to high-percentage looks that resulted in 22 fast-break points and 60 points in the paint. During a postgame chat with the NBA TV “Fan Night” crew, Curry credited Golden State’s improved defensive activity after halftime with tilting the game.
“We got after it on the defensive end, and really established an identity that we want to kind of present every single night — being extra aggressive, versatile, flying around the court, helping each other,” he said. “We were a little passive in the first half, and they got comfortable, but when we turn it on on the defensive end and rebound, we have talent all over the floor, and different options. If we can turn the defensive stops into transition opportunities, that’s great for us, and we were able to do that in the third quarter.”
Getting the defense in order absolutely remains a top priority for the Warriors. Entering Tuesday, they ranked among the league’s five most permissive defenses in terms of points allowed per possession, second chance points allowed, fast-break points allowed and points in the paint allowed; even after the blowout win, they’re still in the middle of the defensive efficiency pack, a far cry from the top-five-caliber work they turned in during Kerr’s first two years on the bench.
Figuring out how to get Thompson going — he finished with 14 points on 6-for-17 shooting, and is now 3-for-28 from long range this season — is up there, too. So is finding a way to continue cleaning the defensive glass when facing opposing frontcourts capable of bullying their way to misses in front of the rim — like, say, the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom the Warriors will meet Thursday night in a game that might draw a little bit of attention.
The Warriors haven’t solved everything yet, but they looked in Tuesday’s second half closer to finding answers than they had through the first 3 1/2 games of the season, thanks in large part to their top gun doubling down on his commitment to rising and firing.
“I just told him he looked like Riley Curry in the first half, Steph Curry in the second half,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the game, according to ESPN.com’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss.
When Steph Curry looks like Steph Curry, the Warriors tend to look like the Warriors. And after an up-and-down start to the 2016-17 campaign, that’s got to be a pretty scary thing for any opponent to see.
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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter!
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